Q: I'm a 45 yr old female who just got hooked on running again after several years of not doing much more then walking and biking. I am training for my 5th 10K, which will be the first race in 5 yrs. Most of my 10K times have been just over 60 minutes. I have been running between 20-22 miles a week since July, and around 15 miles a week from April -July. I'm in fairly decent shape, but after losing 15 lbs, I'm stuck at 160 and need to lose another 5. (I'm 5' 8")

My question is to improve my times from an 11 minute mile to a 10 minute mile, should I continue to run my 2 courses which are 4 miles (4 times a week) & 6 miles (once a week) or go for shorter runs to focus on increasing the speed? My courses are fairly flat, a long slight downward slope at the half way point and a slight upward hill on the last few blocks, but the area west of Chicago is pretty flat.

I was running with 2 other people most of the summer, I now am training alone. I also just joined a health club to add strength training. The fitness advisor did not have a recommendation for where I should focus my training to increase my speed.

Please help. - Diane

A: Rage, here. If you are seeking The Truth, you have come to the right place.

The answer to your question is definitely go for the shorter runs focusing on speed. If you want to average 10 minute miles, you need to train faster than that in order for that pace to feel manageable come race day. To improve your 10k times, running 400s or quarter miles is a common interval distance that many good competitive runners use. Tuesday is track day for me. Why? I run four days a week, with Sundays typically being a long run day. I take Monday off and come into Tuesday rested and ready to Rage.

I would start out with just a couple the first week, just to get you used to the speed. The key is holding on to the pace. Time yourself doing a brisk walk the first couple to just get a feel for pace and the effort required. Then, start the workout. If after the first lap, you don't think you can sustain it for the whole workout with the pace you are running, slow down for the next lap. Again, the key is hanging on to the pace for the whole workout.

Next week, try adding a lap. If you are too tired after one or two, stop there. Wait until you are ready to add a lap. Do this every week until you work up to 5-8 laps. Eight is tough. Trust me. Five or six is o.k. So pick a pace you can handle. It might take you a few months to work up to and hold pace for 5-8 laps, so pick a 10k four or five months down the road give you plenty of time to prepare.

Now, after doing this on Tuesdays for a four to six weeks, I suggest doing some mile time trials on Thursdays (if you have not yet recovered from Tuesdays' workout, wait until Friday…or whenever you feel ready. Never attempt another hard workout the same week unless you feel rested and ready to finish the workout). Go out and run a mile…just one, and check your time. If you're feeling up to it the next week, do it again, but not unless you are ready. Gradually, I'll bet you will see that mile time improve.

Finally, the other piece of advice to improve your 10k preparation are hard longer runs, or what some call "tempo" runs. These are at 80-90 percent of maximum effort (e.g. "race pace") and not quite race distance, but put your body on notice of what race effort will feel like on race day.

Take one of your four milers you normally do in a week and run it for time, for example. In terms of when to do these, try doing one four mile tempo run four weeks out and another one 10 days out from your 10k goal race. (Note: My preference would be for the second aforementioned tempo run to be at 10k distance within 10-14 days of the race. This has worked well for me in the past, and I believe it will put your body on notice for what a 10k really is come race day). Make sure to give yourself some good rest before any of these hard workouts. To avoid injury, it would be wise to back off to four days a week if you are stepping up your intensity.

Let us know how it goes. Thanks for asking. - The Rage

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